Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Your best cheap dish


Fat Guy
 Share

Recommended Posts

What dish do you make or know about that represents the best combination of excellence and frugality?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not really a dish - but what's really cut down on my grocery bill has been having the cooking skills and creativity to use everything. Anything from the myriad of dinners you can get from one roast chicken (roast chicken, chicken pot pie, chicken stock, etc) to never throwing anything out. Example - I froze the liquid from sous-viding some pork ribs a few weeks ago, that went into a batch of carnitas I made a few days later. Next to no work, no money, and the carnitas were excellent. I've done the same with leftover broth from posole (which is amazing. I think I like the carnitas better than the original posole)

Dried beans are always good, but they're even better doctored up with a little (homemade) BBQ sauce left over from yesterday's dinner. And "Refrigerator Soup" - soup made from all those leftover bits of stuff that is going to go bad in a couple days if they don't get used - can be excellent.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess every person's idea of frugality is different.

My "best" cheap dish (a lot of my dishes are inexpensive, but not cheap :wink: ) is probably a braised pork dish. Using a relatively inexpensive pork shoulder for which I generally pay under $1.50 a pound (99 cents on sale), I can easily feed 10 people with say, 6 lbs. of pork, some carrots, celery, onions, potatoes, and rice. With a fresh green vegetable such as string beans, collards or kale, I'd say I can get the cost down to around $2 a head.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Getting the protein down in price is a major ingredient in a good, cheap dish. For example, I make a dish that people love which consists of braised beef and lentils. The cost comes down to whether brisket, short ribs or some other braising cut is on sale. Once I have my meat situation sorted out, the rest is easy: braise the meat (in beef stock if you have it, or water plus mirepoix if you don't), cool (preferably overnight), defat the braising liquid, cook lentils in half of the braising liquid (plus water or stock to top off) with mirepoix. Dice some of the meat (preferably the parts that don't make beautiful servings) and mix in with the lentils towards the end of cooking. Meanwhile reheat the braised meat in the other half of the stock. To serve place a scoop of lentils in the bowl, top with some of the meat, and pour a little of the braising liquid over.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another way to get the price of the protein down is to use it for a number of meals and spread that cost out. I also like the poached chicken method - poach a whole chicken with mirepoix and bouquet garni till barely done. Remove meat and use it for making a chicken salad, saving some for the soup. Return bones to pot and make a nice, flavorful stock which turns into a full-meal chicken soup when adding back some of the chicken along with a handful of vegetables.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Tortellini and beans. This can actually be produced for about $5/two good sized servings, and is amazingly good. I prefer borlotti, but kidney beans are pretty good, too. When I was at my most broke, I could still manage this about once a week, and for a couple of extra bucks I could get really good tortellini from places that made them fresh.

Sometimes, I make it more of a soup, with a bit of reduced chicken broth, and other times I build a sauce around the beans, but regardless, it comes out well, and can even be made on a hot plate, with the tortellini being cooked last in the beans.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A lot of Indian vegetarian foods are very cheap to make, though the end product is extremely delicious and satisfying!

Probably one of the cheapest dishes is any kind of dal, not to mention the fact that it can easily be stretched out (just add more water!). Last bag of moong dal I bought was £4.99 for 2kg. I usually cook one cup of dal for 4 people, that's around 200g I think, so that works out at £0.49 for the main bulk of the dish! Just add vegetables (if desired) and seasonings. Spices are more expensive per gram, but obviously you use smaller amounts. As long as you don't go too heavy on the cardamom and saffron in your dishes, your monthly spice bill will not be too high. And as I said, the dal can be stretched out for 6 people by making it soupier and adding more vegetables.

One of the key points for making dishes on the cheap is to know where to buy the ingredients. For instance, if you buy tamarind in Tescos, you can end up paying £1.50 for a single block of dried tamarind. But if you buy it in a local Indian store, usually you can buy 3 or 4 for £1!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you're really broke, biscuits and gravy can make you feel okay about it. Or red beans and rice. I made both of those often while raising my kids on next to nothing. Recently, going through a bit of a frugal period, I was glad to discover a large ham in the freezer. I'd bought three of them when they were cheap. The first dinner was ham and mashed potatoes. The ham was used for several other dishes, and the leftover potatoes I turned into croquettes. I had dried pintos, so another night we had ham with beans and rice. Last night I realized I needed to use up the rest of the ham, and made it into char siu with noodles and veggies.

I was out of town for a few weeks and came back to no fresh food in the house. Managed to go almost three weeks now only spending $30 on groceries. Not something I normally do, but it's nice to know I can if I have to.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This may be temporary, but oxtail. I go to a farm to pick up beef about once a month. My beef guy has never sold his oxtail--and only has it packaged because one of his long-time customers will take it off his hands. I became customer number two who will do him this "favor." Last night was oxtail braised with tomatoes and celery (based on the recipe in The Essential New York Times Cookbook). The other ingredients are all things a lot of people keep on hand. As I was making it I wasn't expecting much, thinking it was probably just one more way to combine beef, tomatoes, and a few other things (which is not a combination I can eat forever). But the taste definitely went beyond the standard tomato sauce profile--even though, really, the only difference between this and many other one-pot beef dishes is the cut of meat and the stepped-up amount of celery. It's also got two cups of wine in it, but that can still count as frugal if you're as cheap about wine as I am and your meat is free. (Given the clear lack of demand around here, I'm hoping that oxtail remains cheap when it becomes, inevitably, not free. It seems to me that would be a win-win situation.) And the oxtail certainly was excellent accompanied with only rice--enough so that it has now jumped into my short dinner rotation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I catch my own lobsters. Well, no.

When my husband was unemployed I started making a giant pot of beans once a week. Sometimes red beans and rice, sometimes southwestern style. The only pricey component is the ham shanks for the stock, but I make enough stock at one time to produce about five big pots of beans, so ultimately each serving of beans is pretty cheap. Now I'm a devotee. But the quality of the beans makes a big difference, so buying the cheapest beans doesn't always pay.

I too am a big fan of using poached chicken in soups and rice salads, rather than just eating large hunks of it. But for a company dish, one of my most economical has been a Nigella Lawson baked dish for which I only use leg-thigh pieces. The dish is incredibly adaptable and you can bake all kinds of basic veggies along with the chicken, such as carrots, onions, potatoes. The marinade makes this dish distinctive and anyone who eats it will be a convert to dark meat, and that includes my husband.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I like vegetable soups.

Cream of Broccoli Soup

Saute some onion and celery in a few tablespoons of butter til soft.

Add chicken broth and chopped broccoli.

Simmer til soft.

Take out some florets.

Puree with a 1 cup milke or even better heavy cream and season to taste, add florets back in.

Grace Piper, host of Fearless Cooking

www.fearlesscooking.tv

My eGullet Blog: What I ate for one week Nov. 2010

Subscribe to my 5 minute video podcast through iTunes, just search for Fearless Cooking

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But for a company dish, one of my most economical has been a Nigella Lawson baked dish for which I only use leg-thigh pieces. The dish is incredibly adaptable and you can bake all kinds of basic veggies along with the chicken, such as carrots, onions, potatoes. The marinade makes this dish distinctive and anyone who eats it will be a convert to dark meat, and that includes my husband.

Which recipe is this one you mentioned? I am about to cook for a large group of men and this sounds interesting.

Thanks, Kay

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To be faithful to where I now live I would say Skirlie and Kale, quite delicious and truly next to nothing to make.

To be true to my London roots I would say pease pudding with a slather of butter if you have it - yummy. The odd saveloy would not go amiss.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

excellence and frugality?

I can make a gallon of excellent seafood chowder for around $25. This time of year a 4 lb. jumbo lobster can be had for $3.99/lb. Add some fresh salmon trimmings for the same price, a small tray of bay scallops, maybe some frozen shrimp. The rest is celery, onion, potato and cream. The key is to extract ALL the lobster flavor without overcooking by busting it up raw and simmer/steaming the chunks in minimal water. That broth combined with cream is manna nirvana.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

Link to comment
Share on other sites

+1 for dal. My favourite comfort food.

For something a bit more dinner party, I like breast of lamb cooked as for breast of veal from The French Laundry Cookbook. No alcohol in the sauce. Very normal root veg accompaniment. I'm a bit out of touch with lamb prices because I grow my own, but I know breast is about as cheap as it gets - here in Wales at least.

Don't be put off by my attempt. It's prettier with smaller cut veg and when you've avoided the beetroot bleeding into the rest of them.

3712564990_3a2df42e12.jpg

Breast of Lamb - attempt 2 by *Mrs C*, on Flickr

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But for a company dish, one of my most economical has been a Nigella Lawson baked dish for which I only use leg-thigh pieces. The dish is incredibly adaptable and you can bake all kinds of basic veggies along with the chicken, such as carrots, onions, potatoes. The marinade makes this dish distinctive and anyone who eats it will be a convert to dark meat, and that includes my husband.

Which recipe is this one you mentioned? I am about to cook for a large group of men and this sounds interesting.

Thanks, Kay

The recipe is called One-Pan Sage and Onion Chicken and Sausage and is easily googled. I made a number of changes: obviously I didn't use a whole cut up chicken, I just bought attached leg-thigh pieces. I tried the sausage with it the first time I made it, but two things happened that I didn't like: the sausages leaked a ton of grease and they ended up tasting rather dry. I'm not a big sausage fan anyway, so I just leave them out and compensate by using a tad more olive oil in the marinade or a very modest splash of broth. Boiling potatoes cut in half and carrots cut in 3rds went in with everything else. The carrots were fantastic. The onions also are fabulous, so be generous with them in the marinade. Considering the lemony flavor of the dish, artichoke hearts might be good too, but I haven't tried that and it and it isn't exactly a frugal addition. I don't keep English mustard around, whatever that is, so I just used dijon. This dish is super easy and believe it or not the skin-side up chicken gets very crispy, as if dry roasted, since the liquid ingredients don't cover the top half. The fresh sage is dynamite.

Tips: planning ahead is necessary, since this is best prepped with the marinade the night before (saving you time the next day!) and make sure you have bags that double-seal since the packages in your fridge will be very squidgy, as Nigella would say. I served it with white rice and a simple room temp beet salad on the side.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Rice and beans is as cheap as I can get. If I want to include protein someting I caught or killed my self would be cheapest. though the cost of a hunting and fishing license would have to be factored in as well as the cost of the gear, though my hunting and fishing supplies are pretty old and their cost has been depreciated already.

When my neighbors butcher a hog, I can do pretty well with some discount pork as well

Edited by lancastermike (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

My answer is really a combination of Shelby's and abadoozy's. I live in the Pacific Northwest, and like Shelby, we hunt for the majority of our proteins. In the spring it's salmon and sturgeon, in the summer clams, in the fall elk, in the winter dungeness crab. It's important to me to eliminate waste, like abadoozy, out of respect for the animals we take. This applies to all food in general too, out of respect for what it takes to grow vegetables and grains and what it takes to manufacture the things we use that are manufactured. I learned this from my grandmother who wouldn't even let tap water go down the drain, she captured it all in basins and put it on her garden.

I do equate eliminating waste with frugality, although I understand that that isn't always true. I know that if I use up all my caviar, I still am not being frugal. :wink:

Having said that, the thing that has helped me most reduce waste lately while maintaining enough variety that everyone at the table doesn't start stabbing themselves in the eye with forks once they see elk AGAIN, is EatYourBooks.com. I am a cookbook junkie, and it is so nice to be able to look in the fridge or garden, see what is either bountiful or going south, punch it into their search engine and come up with many recipes in my cookbook collection. By limiting the ingredients to what I have onhand, it's really made menu planning and frugality easy.

So, my cheapest dishes use the things we catch and grow ourselves.

Plate Cooked Sturgeon

I use large ceramic ramekins, almost the size of tart pans, for this because they are ceramic, flat and rimmed.

Make a broth out of fish or vegetable stock, lots of fresh garlic and ginger (twice as much as you think), and scallions. Simmer.

Put ceramic plates in oven at 350F to preheat.

Carefully pound pieces of sturgeon into paillards between pieces of plastic wrap, about 1/4" thick.

Put a bunch of chopped tomatoes in the broth and bring it to a low boil. Pull the plates out of the oven and butter each with more than the minimum amount of butter. Put enough fish on the plate to cover the bottom. Just cover with hot broth. By the time you get it to the table it will be cooked. Garnish with cilantro.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...